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Understanding Refractive Errors & How to Treat Them

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If you are experiencing blurred vision, chances are that it is due to a refractive error. Refractive errors can affect our eyes in many different ways, impacting our ability to see at various distances, influencing our night vision, and more.
But what exactly is a refractive error? And how do we treat them? All of your questions will soon be covered in this brief article.

How Do Our Eyes Work?

To begin, we need to first understand refraction and how our eyes work. Refraction is the bending of light as it passes through one object to another.
Simply put, vision occurs when light rays enter our eye through the cornea and is refracted through the pupil (the opening in the center of the iris). From there, it enters into the eye.
Once in the eye, the light rays pass through the eye’s crystalline lens. The lens is what focuses the light onto the retina. The retina is responsible for sending messages to the brain via the optic nerve, which in turn creates the images we see.
The process is much like how a camera works. The lens shortens and lengthens its width in order to focus properly, while the film (retina) captures all of the light rays and creates an image.

Refractive Errors

Now that we have established what refraction is and how the eye works, we can better understand refractive errors.
Refractive errors occur when the shape of the eye prevents light from focusing directly on the retina. This can be due to a number of different factors such as the length of the eyeball, changes in the cornea shape, or an aging lens.

Who Can be Affected?

Refractive errors can affect people of all ages, both children and adults. One type of progressive refractive error, presbyopia, is caused by age and other factors.

Treating Refractive Errors

Multiple treatment options exist for refractive errors. The patient has a choice between eyeglasses, contact lenses, or surgery.
No treatment method is in any way better than the other. The method of treatment is dependent on the patient, their needs, and their preferences.


Eyeglasses are the most common form of treatment for refractive errors. They are the simplest and safest way to correct your eyesight.
Your Optometrist will be able to prescribe you with appropriate corrective lenses unique to your condition.

Contact Lenses

Much like eyeglasses, contact lenses act as the first surface incoming light rays hit before entering your eye. The lenses work to cause a more precise refraction or focus depending on the prescription.
Some people prefer contact lenses to eyeglasses because they do not require you to wear frames. Also, some claim they have a wider field of vision, greater comfort, and clearer vision with contact lenses.

Refractive Surgery

Refractive surgery, or more commonly known as laser eye surgery, works by changing the shape of the cornea permanently. By doing so, you eye regains its focusing power, allowing you to once again see clearly.
Many different refractive surgeries exist. As such, it is important to consult your Optometrist to determine which surgery best suits your needs, or if surgery is even an option for you.

Written by Jennifer Sanchez

Dr. Jennifer Sanchez was born and raised in Calgary, Alberta. She completed her Bachelor of Science Degree in Biological Sciences at the University of Calgary and Doctor of Optometry Degree, with honours, at Southern California College of Optometry. Dr. Sanchez worked alongside optometrists at American Veteran Affairs Hospitals and Indian Health Services and practiced co-management with ophthalmologists specializing in refractive and cataract surgery through a clinical externship.

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